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Study Findings May Help Detect Pregnancy Complications

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study was able to replicate uterine fluid, which may help in detecting pregnancy complications.
  • The study findings may help lessen the need for invasive exploratory procedures.
  • Doctors are optimistic, but note there is a long way to go. This study is only the beginning.

Uterine fluid is an essential component of a healthy pregnancy. In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers uncovered a way to examine uterine fluid in a laboratory setting.

Their discoveries may make it possible to detect pregnancy complications and even save potential pregnancy losses without invasive procedures.

Creating The Model

Examining any internal elements of a pregnancy or fetus usually requires a needle, incision, or a method of entering the expecting mother’s body.

In this study, researchers from the University of Missouri worked to remove the invasive component. Using organoids, which are stem-cell created tissues, the researchers were able to create a simulation of uterine fluid. The process enabled them to take a closer look at the elements of uterine fluid and the way it operates.

“In addition to enhancing our understanding of uterine fluid composition regulation, this innovation is directly and readily transferrable to wider fields of cell and organoid biology, with implications for personalized, or precision, medicine approach development,” the study notes.

Researchers were able to study the functions of uterine fluid, and its ability to transport details from the uterus to the fetus. Their laboratory development made it possible to do this without an invasive procedure on the mother.

“Anytime you’re doing an invasive procedure on a pregnancy, you run the risk of causing harm,” explains Gwenneth Simmonds, PhD, CNM. “There’s potential that you might actually injure the fetus, or there’s potential for causing miscarriage. There’s also the potential for infection just because you’re puncturing the skin,” she notes.

Gwenneth Simmonds, PhD, CNM

Anytime you’re doing an invasive procedure on a pregnancy, you run the risk of causing harm.

— Gwenneth Simmonds, PhD, CNM

The replication of uterine fluid may help alleviate some of those potential problems for studying and testing, as well as for future examinations.

A Good First Step

The ability to examine the properties of uterine fluid brings hope to the medical community.

“If you make a model, you can extrapolate from the model what will work in real life and answer the questions that are leading to loss and failure,” states Julie Levitt, MD, an OB/GYN with The Women’s Group of Northwestern and Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that uterine fluid has the ability to communicate information about the health of a pregnancy. A firmer grasp on the way it works may allow doctors to know if there are markers present for any pregnancy risks. Indications of impending problems and even loss could be obtained from information the fluid provides.

While hopeful about these possibilities, Dr. Levitt remains cautiously optimistic.

Julie Levitt, MD

It’s a model. To the extent that we can extrapolate its usefulness and effectiveness in a real human remains to be seen. But this is like the ground floor. This is groundbreaking. I think it has potential and purpose for the future.

— Julie Levitt, MD

“We have to be careful with interpreting this. It doesn’t mean they’re going to cure miscarriage, or they’re going to figure out why pregnancies fail. Not necessarily. But they’re breaking it down to the molecules that are a part of the equation,” Dr. Levitt advises.

The study does have its limitations. Working on a model can simulate human conditions, but of course is not the same. A laboratory is a controlled environment, and those same controls may not be present in a real-life situation. Additional studies are needed to further examine the efficacy of the findings.

Looking to the Future

Up to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Approximately 1 in 33 babies are born with birth defects.

The results of this study, and the ability to better understand how uterine fluid supports a pregnancy, may be the first piece of the puzzle to lowering those numbers. As physicians and nurses work to provide support to women with these pregnancy experiences, the more information they have, the better.

“It’s a model. To the extent that we can extrapolate its usefulness and effectiveness in a real human remains to be seen. But this is like the ground floor. This is groundbreaking. I think it has potential and purpose for the future,” Dr. Levitt concludes.

What This Means For You

Pregnancy brings its own set of anticipated joys and excitement, as well as worries and concerns. When the concerns are medical, and your doctor needs to do further testing, that is an added level of stress. The findings of this study, and the ability to potentially have less invasive testing during pregnancy, is the first step to help relieve some of that stress. The possibility of learning about pregnancy complications early is tremendously beneficial, and provides hope for the future.

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  1. Simintiras CA, Dhakal P, Ranjit C, Fitzgerald HC, Balboula AZ, Spencer TE. Capture and metabolomic analysis of the human endometrial epithelial organoid secretome. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021;118(15):e2026804118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2026804118